What are the touches of humor in the play Everyman?

The play Everymay is story about a man on his journey to meet his maker and contains humorous aspects within the depiction of its characters. The procrastination of the human race and the irony of their actions provide many comedic moments.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Summoning of Everyman, usually referred to simply as Everyman, the anonymous, late 1400s morality play , contains comic vignettes, but no truly comic scenes. This isn't unusual, considering that the play takes place at the end of Everyman's life and concerns the "pilgrimage" he must undertake to...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The Summoning of Everyman, usually referred to simply as Everyman, the anonymous, late 1400s morality play, contains comic vignettes, but no truly comic scenes. This isn't unusual, considering that the play takes place at the end of Everyman's life and concerns the "pilgrimage" he must undertake to prepare himself for his final reckoning before God. There are, however, underlying and often darkly comic elements that run through the play.

The premise of the play itself is not only deadly serious, but it's also a little absurd in its oversimplification of a man's life, to the extent that Everyman can actually walk the earth talking with those elements of his life that he can take to his final judgment with him.

The play beings with God, the supreme being in the universe, sitting in majesty in his "heavenly sphere," complaining at length about how he's been ignored, forsaken, and generally mistreated by the creatures he created and about how no one seems to respect or fear him anymore.

GOD. I perceive here in my majesty,
How that all creatures be to me unkind,
Living without dread in worldly prosperity...

But now I see, like traitors deject,
They thank me not for the pleasure that I to them meant,
Nor yet for their being that I them have lent...

Poor, underappreciated God fails to see the irony and humor in his situation.

God calls upon Death, the most terrifying of all his creations, to go to Everyman, but Everyman doesn't even recognize Death as who or what it is.

EVERYMAN. I know thee not: what messenger art thou?

When Death identifies itself, Everyman seems unimpressed and tries to bribe Death into giving him more time and to come back later.

EVERYMAN. Yet of my good will I give thee, if ye will be kind,
Yea, a thousand pound shalt thou have,
And defer this matter till another day.

Everyman keeps trying to negotiate his way out of his pilgrimage.

EVERYMAN. For all unready is my book of reckoning.
But twelve year and I might have abiding,
My counting book I would make so clear,
That my reckoning I should not need to fear...

Now, gentle Death, spare me till to-morrow,
That I may amend me
With good advisement.

Everyman doesn't seem to understand the gravity of his situation or the finality of God's judgment, and he asks Death if he can come back to his life after his reckoning before God.

EVERYMAN. Death, if I should this pilgrimage take,
And my reckoning surely make,
Show me, for saint charity,
Should I not come again shortly?

DEATH. No, Everyman; and thou be once there,
Thou mayst never more come here,
Trust me verily.

Death finally grows impatient with Everyman, and threatens to "smite" him if he doesn't stop procrastinating.

DEATH. Nay, thereto I will not consent,
Nor no man will I respite,
But to the heart suddenly I shall smite
Without any advisement.
And now out of thy sight I will me hie;
See thou make thee ready shortly,
For thou mayst say this is the day
That no man living may scape away.

Everyman finally, if reluctantly, comes to terms with his situation. Ironically, and not a little comically, Everyman cries out in despair to the entity who demands the reckoning.

EVERYMAN. I would to God I had never be born!

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Everyman is by and large a serious work, being a morality play concerned with the immortal soul of the main character, but it does have moments of humor. The character of Cosyn protests when Everyman asks him to go with him on his journey, claiming he has "the crampe in my to." The humor comes from the pettiness of Cosyn's complaint. Even darker humor comes from the fact that cousins and families, in general, are supposed to support one another in times of need, yet Everyman finds his relations lazy, useless, and unwilling to be there for him. Similarly, Fellowship only offers to go with Everyman if he needs help in killing a man or chasing women, but the moment Everyman shares that his journey will not involve partying or thrills, Fellowship backs out. There is also some humor in Everyman's attempt to get Goods to go with him, not realizing physical goods will grant him no benefit after he is dead.

This sort of comic relief was not uncommon in the medieval theater. The church controlled what could and could not be performed, meaning most if not all plays were either about the lives of biblical figures and the saints, or moral stories instructing the audience how to live a righteous life. However, humor was often inserted into these plays to give them entertainment value, usually through earthy comic relief characters like the ones mentioned above.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It's fair to say that Everyman isn't exactly bursting at the seams with humorous elements; but they're there, all the same. The most explicit example of humor would be Everyman's scene with his useless relations Kindrede and Cosyn, when Cosyn claims that he cannot accompany Everyman on his journey because of a cramp in his toe. The idea that a painful toe is a sufficient excuse not to embark upon such an important spiritual quest is simply too ridiculous for words. Cosyn—and Kindrede, for that matter—doesn't seem to appreciate the importance of Everyman's journey.

Additional comic relief is provided by the character of Fellowship, a lover of wine, women, and song. This lusty bon viveur makes it clear to Everyman that so long as he eats, drinks, makes merry, and chases women, he will always be by his side. Fellowship seems blissfully unaware of the nature of Everyman's journey, seeing it as nothing more than an excuse for the medieval equivalent of hard partying.

When he finds out exactly what Everyman's journey entails, he bids him farewell, but not before offering to help him kill any man who gets in his way! This is black humor at its blackest, but it also has a serious point in that it shows the dangers into which the Christian pilgrim can easily fall if he departs from the path of righteousness.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

First, Everyman does not start at the beginning of a man's life, but starts at the end of a man's life- his death and 'last judgement'. 

'Everyman does not recognize Death when they are even face to face' and Everyman asks what messenger he is even after he tells him he must give a reckoning. Everyman stresses and he says  that he needs more time to 'clean up some things' so to speak.

More 'comic elements occur when his friends, Fellowship, Kindred, Cousin, Goods, and later on Knowledge, Beauty, Strength, Discretion, and Five Wits give excuses and abandon him.' For example, 'Cosyn'  gives a flimsy excuse and explains that Everyman will have to go alone because he has cramp in his toe. Another example is even though Fellowship, Kindred, and Cousin feel sorry for him, Goods does not.  When he hears about Everyman's dlimmea he 'changes his tune.' When Everymanblames Goods for deceiving him, Goods remins him that he brought on everything himself and ridicules him.

For a more detailed analysis, see Mroality Plat Plot Summaries: The Castle of Perseverence, Mankind, and Everyman at rowenasworld.org/essays/complit/moralities 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team